25 September 2020

Airport launches direct flights to Sunshine Coast and Cairns, and Hobart may be next

| Ian Bushnell
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Today's announcement at Canberra Airport

Canberra Airport Managing Director Stephen Byron, Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Head of Aviation Michael Thomson at today’s announcement. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Canberrans will soon be able to fly direct to the holiday destinations of the Sunshine Coast and Cairns, and direct flights to Hobart are also on the agenda in a joint ACT Government-Canberra Airport strategy to open up new routes and engage new airlines.

Capping talks going back months, Canberra Airport has announced that Brisbane-based Alliance Airlines will offer two piggyback flights a week from Canberra to Maroochydore and then on to Cairns, as Queensland reopens its air border with the ACT.

A 100-seat Fokker jet will service the Canberra-Maroochydore-Cairns route on Sundays, Mondays and Fridays depending on the week, a first for Canberra that will open up the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef without having to fly via Sydney or Brisbane.

Head of Aviation Michael Thomson said the deal was another step in the airport’s COVID-19 recovery plan, and he hoped to able to announce more destinations – including Tasmania – as negotiations continue.

He said there were about 50,000 people who travel between the Sunshine Coast and Canberra in both directions, and the new service’s fares would be very competitive.

”We’re very confident that this will stay as a permanent arrangement and, in fact, if you look at the numbers of people travelling between the Sunshine Coast and Canberra, there probably is capacity to sustain four flights a week,” he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who announced a Labor pledge to inject $3 million over four years into tourism marketing partnerships to attract more direct domestic flights to Canberra, said Tasmania was the next state on the ACT’s radar.

Fokker 100

A Fokker 100 Alliance jet of the kind that will service the new Queensland route out of Canberra. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There have been no direct flights to Hobart for years but both Mr Barr and the airport are confident that when the usually booming tourism destination reopens, Canberra will be in the mix.

”We’re pretty well ready to go once the border issues are resolved,” Mr Barr said.

”Tasmania has put forward 1 December as when they are definitely going to make some decisions, but they are also looking to bring that forward for certain states and [a] territory.

”I’ve been putting the case to Tasmania that we’re a safe destination and we would be a good place to start. That sort of argument has been persuasive with the SA and Queensland governments.”

It’s an argument he was still prosecuting in the bid for a Canberra-Wellington link as part of a trans-Tasman bubble, which is a matter for the Australian and New Zealand governments.

”We do so in recognition of the reality around international travel so it’s important to establish new direct flights from Canberra Airport around Australia and a medium-term objective once the Australia-NZ travel bubble opens up is to work with airport and tourism authorities on Canberra-NZ flights,” he said.

An unknown factor is how big the role a slimmed-down Virgin will play, and what opportunities it will provide for carriers such as Alliance, Rex, Pelican and Corporate Air, all of which the airport is talking to.

Mr Thomson said the airport was in talks with Virgin daily but he was confident that Qantas or a carrier using a smaller aircraft would fill any gaps on the Sydney route.

”Direct flights to Hobart would be very appealing and that’s one of the discussions we’ve been having with these other carriers,” he said.

Alliance Airlines has launched a special between Canberra and the Sunshine Coast of $129 one way, on sale now until 2 October. Regular fares commence at $169 one-way.

Canberrans can fly to Cairns for $249 until 2 October. Regular fares start at $275 one-way.

The announcement is a lift for the Canberra Airport which had lost 98 per cent of its passengers during the border closures and is now slowly rebuilding.

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